The Internet, whether via text, email, or social media, has led to an explosion in writing, much of it in a conversational style.
Email kicked off an unprecedented expansion in writing. We’re now in the most literate age in history. I remember in 2003 asking someone, “What’s a blog?” By 2006, the analysis firm NM Incite had identified 36 million blogs worldwide; five years later, there were 173 million. Use of online social media rises every month. In fact, writing is overtaking speech as the most common form of interaction. Ofcom, the UK’s communications regulator, says Britons now text absent friends and family more often than they speak to them on the phone or in person.
There will be those who will lament the decline of language and proper writing. But this less formal and down to earth copy produced by grammatically challenged folks, like me, is good, per Kuper.
Social media offer a pretty good model for how to write. First, the writers mostly keep it short. People on Twitter often omit “I”, “the” and “a”, which are usually wastes of space anyway. Vocabulary tends to be casual: bloggers say “but” instead of “however”. They don’t claim a false omniscience, but proclaim their subjectivity. And the writing is usually unpolished, barely edited. That’s a great strength. “Major Memory for Microblogs”*, a recent article in the academic journal Memory & Cognition, found that people were much better at remembering casual writing like Facebook posts or forum comments than lines from books or journalism. One possible reason: “The relatively unfiltered and spontaneous production of one person’s mind is just the sort of thing that is readily stored in another’s mind.” That’s probably why Twitter, Facebook and reality TV are successful.
George Orwell, per Kuper, believed that ideal writing sounded like speech. He lamented in 1944 the divide between wordy, stilted written English, and livelier speech. “Spoken English is full of slang, it is abbreviated wherever possible, and people of all social classes treat its grammar and syntax in a slovenly way.”
I was always taught to write the way I talk. It’s a good thing social media arrived when it did. A kid born in Queens raised by Jersey natives whose formative years were in rural Wisconsin is going to be less than polished and often a little rough.
When I started to blog 10 years ago I thought it a good way to improve my writing. A way for me to be better conform to what I saw as proper and polished writting. Little did I know social media was going to make me more of who I am and convey my thoughts in the way I always have.
And that’s good — I think.